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The Colonel

The Colonel


by Carolyn Forché

The Colonel Theme of Language and Communication

You've heard of culture clashes? The one in "The Colonel" ranks extreme. What happens when two visitors from North America come to pay a call at the home of a high ranking Salvadoran warlord? What's said can be less important than what's not said. And the disjuncture can't be chalked up only to language differences. How things are heard—and by whom or what—adds another disturbing layer to the horror story that this poem is recounting.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Why begin this poem with "What you have heard is true"? What does the speaker imply the reader has heard?
  2. In which language do you think the colonel and his guest speak during this evening? Why might that matter?
  3. What might the speaker have said, if her friend hadn't warned her not to speak? Why do you think so?
  4. How is talk contrasted to action in this poem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

It's not you; it's him. The colonel says what he does and acts as a message to the United States.

Put on your beret and your V for Vendetta masks. A poem is one of the strongest modes of protest.

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